Title :: The Art of Living
Rating :: FR15
Fandom :: Supernatural and ‘The Return’
Disclaimer :: I do not own these characters and no profit is being made from the use of them.
Note/Spoilers :: This fic takes place a year after the movie and during the episodes, “All Hell Breaks Loose Parts I & II.” Dialogue taken from the episodes written by Sera Gamble, Eric Kripke and Michael T. Moore.
Synopsis :: Azazel discovers a child from the previous generation that survived the purging and pits her against the would-be soldiers of this generation.
White teeth sank into a bottom lips as Jo leaned forward, over the ceramic sink and tried to keep her hands steady as she applied closure tape to the gash across her forehead. Her fingers tensed as she pushed the sticky edge against her skin before gritting her teeth and compressing the laceration so that two sides met. She swallowed and tried to pull the closure tape over the wound, around her hand and it snapped back, out of her fingers and fluttered uselessly to the sink.
“Dammit!” The aggravated word crawled its way out of her throat and she kicked the cabinet before stepping back and burying her face into her hands. Jo pressed her fingers against her closed eyelids, willing the back the tears of frustration as her shoulders began to shake.
A hesitant knock at the bathroom door lifted her head and she flinched at the sight of her own reflection. “Jo?” The tension in her chest eased with the sound of Sam’s voice and she turned, reaching for the handle and opening the door as he continued, “Jo? It’s Sam.”
She peered up at him through damp lashes and he offered her a sympathetic smile. “You alright?” He flinched and shook his head. “I keep asking you that.”
Her lips quirked and she stepped back, motioned toward the sink and the bandages that Bobby, the homeowner, had been kind enough to supply. “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Yeah, that stuff isn’t the easiest to use. Here.” Sam stepped in and laid his hands on her shoulders, guiding her back towards the bathtub and seated her on the edge.
He turned to the sink and gathered up the tape and the damp washcloth she’d been using before going to his knees in front of her. He caught her chin between his thumb and forefinger and dipped it, turning her face towards the wall so he could reach the gash. Her vision blurred, distorting the floral wallpaper as he wiped at the edges of the wound. Cleaning the torn and abused skin with slow, sure movements before he rose and blew at it, drying the area and Jo’s eyes closed against tender handling, so similar to Terry. Her throat tightened and she swallowed, pushing back the fresh batch of tears as Sam applied the closure tape with the same gentle consideration.
Her eyes opened and she turned her face forward, met Sam’s concerned stare head-on as she offered tiredly, “Thank you.”
His brows pulled together. “You gonna be okay?”
Her mouth twisted and she glanced down, frowning at her pale hands as they twisted in her lap and she separated them, wiping the dampness of her palms against a pair jeans that had seen better days. The laugh that escaped her raised the hairs along her bare forearms and she stated, “Sure. I’m gonna be great.” Her head rose as she finished, “I mean, I’m in a person’s home that looks at me as if I might be the devil incarnate and your brother, as caring as he seems to be of you, wants me dead—”
He cut her off, “No, he doesn’t.” Her brows shot up and Sam grimaced, conceding, “Okay, maybe a little.”
The next laugh to escape Jo was more genuine, less broken and she shook her head. “What am I doing here? How am I of any help to you, Sam?”
“Come on,” was his answer as he stood, offering her a hand and Jo sighed, taking it. Sam led them from the bathroom and down a hall lined with book-filled shelves, old well-worn books in every size and color. Jo inclined her head, looked up to see the top of each bookcase held dusty artifacts and wooden boxes with symbols craved into them. She hesitated at the entry to the living room and her pause drew Sam up short and he turned back, offered her an encouraging smile before tugging her forward.
She stumbled and winced, freeing her hand from Sam and placing herself at his shoulder as they made their way toward the dinning room table overflowing with more of those broken-in books. The owner of the home, Bobby Singer, looked up and fixed her with an even stare that had Jo resisting the urge to cross her arms protectively over the center of her body. There was movement beside her and Jo quickly stepped back and to the side, slightly behind Sam.
She caught Dean’s dumbfounded expression and frowned at the beer he was now offering to thin air. Hazel-flecked eyes narrowed and he sighed, “Look, I’m not gonna hurt you.”
Her lips thinned. “Bullshit.”
“Oh, he won’t touch you if he knows what’s good fer him.” The gravel tone had Jo relaxing as the woman, who had appeared on Bobby’s doorstep moments behind Jo and the Winchesters, stepped up behind Dean with three Coors in her hands.
“I’m not going to touch her, Christ.”
Ellen’s brows rose. “Exactly right.” Her gaze turned back to Jo and she motioned her to take a beer.
Jo stepped around Sam and gave Dean a wide berth before hesitantly accepting a Coors and offered the other woman a tight-lipped smile. “Thanks.”
“Alright then, if everyone’s settled, can we please get back to the cluster-fuck that’s about to happen?”
The impatience in Bobby’s voice turned Jo away from Ellen and she watched Sam grab the beer Dean had been offering her and twist off the top. She followed his example as she moved to take the chair with her jacket draped over the back. The beer was beyond cold as she took the first sip and welcomed the yeasty flavor before she sat and ignored the shot glass directly in front of her that had been filled with holy water for her and then Ellen to drink. She settled her beer on the table and watched Bobby rise, place a book in the center of the group.
“So each of these Xs on Ash’s map is an abandon frontier church. All mid-nineteenth century, all built by Samuel Colt.”
Jo’s brows pulled together as the others stiffened with the name and Dean leaned forward, folding his arms on the table as he asked, “Samuel Colt? The demon-killing, gun-making Samuel Colt?”
Bobby nodded. “Yep, and there’s more. He built private railway lines,” he paused, dragging the map Sam and Dean had been studying to the top of the pile and pulled out a sharpie from his jeans before continuing, “connecting church to church. It just happens to lay out like this.” He used the sharpie to connect all the Xs on the map, creating a star that Jo would have drawn when she was a younger.
“Tell me that’s not what I think it is?”
Jo sighed, again feeling well out of her depth with Dean’s question and then even more so after Sam’s answer of, “It’s a Devil’s Trap. A hundred-square mile Devil’s Trap.”
Before she could even contemplate asking what in the hell a Devil’s Trap was Dean started in with, “That’s brilliant. Iron lines demons can’t cross.”
Ellen leaned forward from her place beside Jo and pulled the map closer. “I’ve never heard of something that massive.”
Bobby shook his head. “No one has.”
“And after all these years none of the lines are broken? I mean, it still works?”
Sam nodded at Dean’s question and answered, “Definitely.”
Before anyone could hazard a response to Sam’s certainty Jo spoke up and asked, “What’s a Devil’s Trap?”
The foursome stopped, turned to look at her and she held herself still under their scrutiny and Dean shifted, putting more weight on his crossed arms as he stated. “Think of it like a roach motel for demons. They can get it but can’t get out.” His brows pulled together and he looked to Bobby, “That brings up a good point, what if this thing isn’t trying to keep the demons out? What if it’s tryin’ to keep something in?”
Jo’s stomach knotted as Ellen voiced the room’s unease. “Well, that’s a comforting thought.”
Dean’s brows rose as he explained, “But there’s an only old cowboy cemetery in the middle of it.”
Sam frowned. “All those omens Bobby found. I mean, all those demons are circling it and they can’t get in. What could be in an old cemetery that they’d want?”
Bobby’s mouth thinned behind his beard and he sat, straightening the trucker hat that he wore with a deft movement of his hands. “There’s no way of knowing.”
“There might be.” Jo flinched as the room once again turned to her and she shifted in her seat before settling her gaze on Sam. “I mean, a vision might tell us something.”
Sam frowned. “I can’t force a vision. They just sorta come to me.” His head cocked, “Can you?”
“Sometimes. I get the random ones too, but I have a trigger that usually brings them on.”
Ellen’s brows rose. “A trigger?”
Jo’s head bobbed. “Yeah.”
“So what is it?”
Her mouth dipped with Dean’s too straightforward question and she turned her head to look directly at him as she answered, “Self-inflicted pain.”
“What?” Sam’s brows rose, the dropped. “No.”
He cut her off and reiterated, “No!”
“How do you know this?”
Jo sighed and lifted her arms, stretching them across the map for Bobby to study. “You didn’t notice the scars?”
A muscle in Dean’s jaw flexed. “So you force yourself to have visions? Care to tell us why?”
Her mouth thinned and Jo shrugged. “Been doing it since I was eleven.”
“Why in the sam hell have you been cutting yourself since you were eleven?”
The outrage in Ellen’s voice eased some of the tension from Jo as she recognized the mothering instinct but it was Sam that answered for her in a horrified voice. “That’s when you started getting visions. Jesus, Jo.”
She sighed and spoke before the next person could jump on the too many pain-filled questions bandwagon and asked, “Do you want me to try or not?”
There were two ‘no’ and two ‘yes’ which left Jo with a raised eyebrow as she addressed Ellen and Sam. “Sorry, but it looks like I’m the tie breaker and I vote yes.”
She cut across Sam’s protest. “No, Sam. You brought me here. At least let me try and help.”
“Jo, you don’t need to do this to prove something. We’re gonna go there and stop whatever’s happening no matter what.”
Dean nodded with Sam’s assessment and Jo listened in stunned silence as he offered her an out as well. “Sam’s right. You don’t have to do this. It’d be nice not to go in blind but it’s not like we haven’t done it before.”
Green eyes flicked around the table and she saw Ellen’s firm frown that lined her brow and added a half a decade to the age Jo had previously guessed her at. She shifted, settled her gaze on Bobby and smiled at the considering look he was gracing her with before turning to Dean and his completely neutral stare—the first he’d ever given her.
She just managed to resist the urge to turn to Sam, to see the look of disappointment or pleading she knew he’d be giving her and instead Jo stayed silent and nearly motionless a moment longer, savoring the fact that for the first time, in a long time, she felt like she belonged.
The moment passed and Jo stated, “I need something with a sharp edge.”
Bobby’s home was quiet; the others have long since departed with more knowledge and heavier thoughts after Jo’s vision. She shifted, lifting her feet from the coffee table in front of her and closed the book in her lap with a resolute snap as she struggled to push away the image of Ellen with a gun to her head, of the boys hesitating a fraction too long in doing as Jake asked and of the crack as the trigger was pulled. And then the blood, the blood that suddenly poured from Ellen’s mouth as she fell.
Jo gagged and dropped her head between her knees, breathed in deep as she counted to ten and waited for the nausea to pass. This was why she’d stayed behind, this weakness that would have gotten the others killed. They didn’t need—and in Dean’s case didn’t want—someone like her slowing them down.
She took a shuddering breath and righted herself, sitting back against the under-stuffed cushions of Bobby’s couch and her gaze locked on Dean’s cell phone. They’d left it behind for Jo to use incase something, someone came after her. All she had to do was press ‘one’ and then ‘talk’ as she ran for her life. Though if something could get past the runes and Devil’s Traps laying around Bobby’s home Jo highly doubted calling Sam would save her. She leaned forward and snatched up the phone, turning the thin contraption around in her hands.
It flipped open with the crack of plastic striking plastic and she stared at the LCD screen a moment before dialing the area code 210 and then a phone number she knew by heart. Swallowing past the tightness in her throat she lifted the phone to her ear and waited. It rang four times before a confused, “Hello?” greeted her.
There was a pregnant pause before her best friend responded, “Jo? Where are you calling from?”
She flinched, tightening her grip on the cell. “Michelle, I need a favor.”
Concern crept into Michelle’s voice. “What? What is it?”
“I need you to come pick me up.”
“Sure, of course. Where?” Her jaw tensed and she hesitated long enough for Michelle to question, “Jo? Hello? You still there?”
“Yeah, yeah I’m here. I’m in South Dakota.”
“What?” The shouted response forced Jo to yank the phone from her ear and she winced as Michelle rattled on. “Jesus, Jo! That’s a days ride at least. I gotta work tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry. I am, I just…” She trailed off and sighed, “I shouldn’t have called you.”
“Shut up.” Her brows rose with Michelle’s instant retort. “Where in South Dakota are you?”
Jo shifted the phone closer and answered, “Singer’s Salvage Yard. It’s near Rapid City.”
There was a very put upon sigh before Michelle repeated the name of Bobby’s business back to her and finished with, “I’ll Mapquest it and then head out.” She hesitated before stating, “Jo, you’re gonna be there for a good long while ‘fore I get there.”
Another pause before Michelle added. “Alright. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Should I call this number if I need to reach you?”
“Yeah. I’ll keep it by me.”
“Jo, what’s going on?”
She sighed, suddenly exhausted and stated, “It’s a long story and we’re gonna have about an eighteen hour drive ahead of us when we head back.”
“Christ, don’t remind me. You’re drivin’ back.”
“See you when I get there.”
The Impala rolled into the salvage yard and Dean slowly compressed the break, bringing his baby to a stop with barely a jolt. The passenger door groaned its way open and Sam caught the edge of the door, pulling himself free of the car before stretching that long frame of his skyward. Shaking his head Dean put shoulder to door and spilled himself into the late afternoon sunshine, grateful Jo had assured Sam she’d be fine one night alone at Bobby’s if the group caught up on some sleep at a motel in Wyoming.
The Charger that pulled in beside Dean growled before the engine ticked off and he shook his head at Sam as he made his way around the front of the orange classic toward the side entrance to house. He took the few steps leading up to the door in one bound and knocked. Bobby raised his brows as he slammed the door to his car and the passenger door echoed that sharp bang as Ellen mimicked his movements. The threesome moved toward Sam and the back door as little brother gave another impatient knock and shouted, “JO! It’s Sam!”
Dean stiffened and shared a look of concern with Bobby before the older man moved ahead of him and towards Sam. He pushed the younger man aside and quickly unlocked the door, spilling himself inside with Sam only a step behind both calling out for Jo. Ellen followed Dean as he pulled his Colt 1911 free of the back of his jeans and made his way into the house. His eyes shifted around the well-lit interior as he made his way forward, Ellen shadowing his steps.
He could hear Sam and Bobby moving from room to room, shouting, their voice laced with fear and worry. His brows sloped downward as he reached the living room and noticed the substantial lack of clutter and dust. His head cocked when he saw his cell lay in the center of the freshly scrubbed coffee table and he strode toward it, hand descending to pick his cell up when he saw a piece of paper tucked underneath of it and his frown deepened as he pulled it free to read the neatly printed words.
His shout brought everyone and he sighed as he handed his brother the note with two simple sentences printed on it, “Thank you.” and, “Good luck.” There wasn’t a signature, there wasn’t need for one. His eyes widened and he bent, grabbed his phone and flipped it open before bringing up his call history only to find it blank and his brows rose in slight admiration.
Dean looked up to see Sam hand the note to Bobby as Ellen peered at it over the older hunter’s shoulder. Little brother’s mouth dipped as he sat, folding himself down into the most uncomfortable couch that Bobby claimed kept visitors to a minimum—Dean figured he was just too damn lazy to go looking for another.
“You really expected her to stay? She’s not like us Sam.”
His brother’s chin lifted and he fixed Dean with gaze that was too damn close to emotional for him to be comfortable with but he followed his brother down and laid an unease hand on his shoulder.
“She could’ve learned.”
His brows rose with Sam’s insistence and he asked, “You really want that for her?”
“Dean’s right, Sam.” The brothers turned, looked to Ellen as she took a seat on the coffee table across from them. “Joanna was tough, probably tougher than even she knew, but she doesn’t have to live in this world. And it’d be wrong to force her.”
Sam’s shoulders dropped and he nodded. “I know that. It just woulda been nice to have someone who understood.”
“You still got that, Sam, but this way she’s not in the line of fire.”
Dean inclined his head in agreement with Ellen’s statement as Bobby came to stand to the side of the group and Sam shook his head. “No, I don’t. ‘Cause she never told me her last name.” Dean tensed and noticed the others do the same and Sam nodded to himself, “So, yeah.”
“We can find her.”
Sam glanced at Dean and raised his brows. “How?”
“We’ll find a way.” He grinned, nodded. “We always do.”
An insensate chirp interrupted Jo’s careful study of the Hartman Oil Company and she lifted her head from the folders and files spread across the motel’s small table and stood, making her way towards the dresser and the corner that held the coffee maker. The bold scent of Espresso Roast filled the small room as she freed the pot and filled one of the motel’s supplied ceramic mugs. Replacing the pot, she lifted the coffee and brought it to her mouth, blowing across the top before taking the first sip.
Her eyes closed and she allowed herself that one quiet moment before pushing away from the dresser and immersing herself back into her work. It had been nearly six weeks since her world had been shot to hell—again—and she had no plans on letting herself get dragged back into the depression that had settled over her once she and Michelle had entered her childhood home to find her father dead, his throat slit.
The mug was lifted and she swallowed the bitter liquid, welcomed it’s warmth before setting it down and tugging at the sleeves of her hoodie sweater up her forearms. The grief had almost crippled her, but it had eventually melted away to a hardness that seemed to turn Michelle away from her and Jo hated that, hated that her best friend now looked at her with even eyes and quiet stares. So when the police investigation was over and her father’s home had been placed on the market Jo had fled, throwing herself back into her work and securing three more contracts before her boss, Ambrose Miller, had sent her after Hartman.
Her eyes narrowed and she picked up a manila folder, stared blankly at the excel spread sheet before her jaw tensed and she pushed away from the table and stood. She ran damp palms down the sides of her corduroy pants as she moved toward the bed and her duffle that was flung across it. She caught the leather strap and tugged it forward, over the nylon and cotton comforter until she could reach the zipper. It gave easily and she freed the plastic toiletries container from the upper compartment and began to make her way to the bathroom and a hot shower that would help to clear her head.
The door to her motel room vibrated with a heavy knock and Jo stiffened, her hand clenching around the travel-case. Her stomach tightened as she turned on her heel and padded barefoot across the thin carpet toward the door. She paused and turned back to the bed, tossing the plastic case onto it before wiping her hands on her slacks and finishing the last few feet between her and the peephole in a two quick strides.
Warm palms pressed against the door, anchoring her as Jo rose on tiptoe to peer through that small hole in the door. The curved glass disturbed the image, forming a bubble around the outside world and for a moment the sun glinted off the windshield of her truck and blinded her. She blinked, pupil contracting until she could see past the glare and a slim blonde stepped into view.
Jo’s brows pulled together and for a moment her visitor’s moss-colored gaze locked on the peephole and glossed lips curved upward before the woman asked, her voice muffled but conversational, “You gonna open the door or not?”
She jerked back from peephole and tugged the sleeves of her sweater down, suddenly cold in the climate controlled room. There was another decisive knock that drew Jo’s focus from her sudden discomfort back to the door and she hesitated a moment before wrapping her hand around the cylinder handle and reached up to flip the deadbolt and remove the chain from it’s latch. Her breath caught and she swallowed past the urge to cough and opened the door, stepping behind it so that it acted as a slight shield.
Those moss green eyes narrowed on her face and her visitor’s lips spread wider, revealing straight, white teeth. “You’re a hard woman to track down, Joanna Mills.” Her brows rose. “Or do you prefer Annie?”
Jo’s back straightened and she shoved the door, putting her weight behind it and the woman’s arm lashed out, palm-slapping the wood and stopping Jo’s forward momentum with apparent ease. Her head inclined as she crossed the threshold and Jo shifted back, away from the intruder as she calmly closed the door behind her. Green eyes settled on her once more and Jo swallowed, taking in the slim jeans tucked tight into knee-high boots and the faded tee the girl wore under an old bomber jacket.
She spun on her boot heel and strolled toward the small dinette set, fingers tracing over the Jo’s paperwork before they settled on her coffee cup and she grasped the top, lifted it and turned back to Jo as she inched closer to the door.
“Do you mind?”
She lifted the cup and Jo didn’t fight the frown that spilled across her features as she shrugged and stated, her voice dry. “Help yourself.”
Her eyes gathered at the corners. “Thanks.” The mug was lifted and she took a sip. Her smile becoming genuine as she lowered the cup and turned her study from Jo to the room. “I have to say that you do have better taste than the Winchesters.” She cocked her head, straight blonde hair slipping forward, over her shoulders as she read into Jo’s confusion and clarified, “Sam and Dean.”
The woman placed Jo’s coffee back on the table and dipped her chin. Her slanted bangs fell to cover her forehead before she raised her face and the moss green had been replaced by inky black and she stepped forward, closer. Jo’s chest tightened, but she resisted the urge to retreat, give ground—if she was going to die she might as well be brave, no matter how stupid it may be.
The blonde’s head cocked and her lips curved upward. “You’ve got a spine.” She blinked and her eyes were green once again. “That’ll come in handy.” She stepped forward, closing the space between in a few quick rolls of her hips. “I’m Ruby. I’m here to get you ready.”
Jo shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest. “Ready? For what?”